Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Truth Hurts

The Washington Post recently ran an article on how people perceive and remember so-called "Myth versus fact" arguments. In the public affairs arena, we're used to creating "Myth / Reality" or "True / False" one-pagers, where we counter the "myths" argued by the other side (those scoundrels) with our own carefully developed and cultivated facts.

Turns out, however, that in talking about the myths in contrast to the "truth", we're actually perpetuating the myths! How do we know that? Well, a recent study at the University of Michigan asked participants to review a "Myth/Fact" one-pager put out by the CDC. The materials mentioned myths like "only older people need a flu vaccine" or, "the side effects from the vaccine are worse than the flu."

However, thirty minutes after reviewing the materials, people misremembered 28 percent of the false statements as true. Three days later, they remembered 40 percent of the myths as factual. So now, there's a bunch of people out there saying that they heard the CDC say that only older people need a flu vaccine when, in fact, that's the exact opposite of what the CDC was trying to say.

This study has profound implications for how folks in the public policy arena put together their materials. Perhaps its time to toss out those "Myth and Fact" one-pagers -- and just tell the truth as YOU know it.

No comments: